MOD SQUAD, THE

R
Reviews

This update of the '70s TV series "The Mod Squad" features a new trio of young lookers who are compelled to avoid jail by using their powers for good instead of evil. There's Pete (Giovanni Ribisi), a rich kid who's committed robbery; Julie (Claire Danes), who hails from the street and is up for assault, and Lincoln (Omar Epps) who's guilty of arson and is, well, black. The ground rules are almost as strict as Catholic school: no badges, no guns and no turning in other kids. The beyond-elemental plot revolves around a cache of drugs that has disappeared from a police-evidence locker, with the finger pointing squarely at a bunch of dirty, dirty cops.

Wait a minute! Claire Danes as a tough street kid in recovery, guilty of assault?! Who'd she beat up? Her personal shopper? Even if you find it impossible to suspend disbelief enough to accept this, this latest why-did-they-bother effort from Hollywood's ever-febrile brain trust provides the schlockiest good-bad time since Cindy Crawford strutted her stuff as a don't-mess-with-me maritime lawyer in the immortal Fair Game. Nearly every scene is a guaranteed hoot-fest.

The movie opens with an admittedly canny onscreen Webster's definition of the outdated term, 'mod,' (Does anyone remember "gear"?) The exquisitely faux tone is established by Dennis Farina's fatherly, elaborately coiffed police captain, who straight-facedly announces: 'These kids could have been anybody, headed for nowhere, until I gave them one last chance.' Whether in a grimy police precinct or sleazy drug den, Danes, impeccably accoutred in Gucci and Helmut Lang, always seems to carry the aura of the schoolroom with her. You manfully try to suppress guffaws as she straddles thugs three times her size in an effort to bring them down or whomps an erring ex-turned-drug baddie with a mean-looking suitcase. 'The guy was playing me the entire time!' she whines. 'He's not sober!' The camera lovingly records her stupefied, no-hope walk down Hollywood Blvd., backsliding bottle in hand, then slumping to the floor of her apartment, as if trying to recreate the glory days of heroin chic. Ribisi, improv'ing away like mad, actually comes off the best with his witty face, half-cherub, half-basset hound. There's a hint of romance between him and Danes that is largely expressed in a charming pre-verbal manner, with him staring soulfully at her and her shrieking, 'Knock it off!' 'What?' "Looking!" It is, however, admittedly hard to accept him as the scion of disapproving Beverly Hills parents; he's more like the reincarnation of Dead End Kid Leo Gorcey. Epps, bereft of either romantic interest or backstory, is, well, black. As proof of how retrograde Hollywood has become, one dimly recalls Clarence Williams III having far more involvement, relevance and charismatic presence in the original.

The production is decidedly low-rent, with the villains essayed by the usual crew of jug-eared, pockmarked actors-for-hire that only seem to crop up in these most recent versions of B films. (And Sam McMurray as a racist cop surely deserves better than the low-level jobs he's lately been handed. As his work on "The Tracey Ullman Show" attested, he's as talented as the late Phil Hartman.) Director Scott Silver tries to amp things with a panoply of flashy techniques--slo-mo, hand-helds, time-lapse--that keep the movie chugging along and really deserve a better script. The music score is jam-packed with hiphop grooves by such as Lauryn Hill, Busta Rhymes, Alana Davis and the great Curtis Mayfield that strive mightily to lend some urban authenticity.

--David Noh